Panna cotta with rhubarb, blood orange and grappa

A panna cotta to beat all other panna cottas, The River Cafe's version boasts that just-set wobble and a generous amount of grappa to cut through the rich vanilla cream. Served with bright pink Champagne rhubarb that's been roasted with blood orange and even more vanilla, it's a stunning dessert making the most of seasonal fruit in late winter and early spring.

First published in 2021




Panna cotta

  • 1.2l double cream
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 2 lemons, rind finely pared and reserved
  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 150ml of whole milk
  • 150g of icing sugar
  • 120ml of grappa, plus extra to serve



  • 6 panna cotta or dariole moulds


Pour 900ml of the cream into a pan along with the vanilla pods and lemon rind, then bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until reduced by one-third
  • 0.9l double cream
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 2 lemons, rind finely pared and reserved
Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in the milk for 15 minutes
  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 150ml of whole milk
Once the cream has reduced, remove the cooked lemon rind and set aside. Remove the vanilla pods and scrape the softened insides into the cream
Remove the gelatine from the milk and set aside. Bring the milk to the boil, then return the gelatine to the milk and stir until dissolved. Pour the milk and gelatine mixture into the hot cream through a sieve, stir, then leave to cool
Lightly whip the remaining cream with the icing sugar, then fold it into the cooled cooked cream. Stir in the grappa
  • 0.3l double cream
  • 150g of icing sugar
  • 120ml of grappa, plus extra to serve
Place a piece of cooked lemon rind in each of six small 200ml moulds or bowls. Pour in the cream mixture, cover with cling film and allow to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours
While the panna cottas set, cook the rhubarb. Preheat an oven to 150°C/gas mark 2 and cut the rhubarb into 6cm lengths, placing them in a small baking dish. Finely grate the zest of half the orange over the top of the rhubarb, then squeeze in the juice. Split the vanilla pods and scrape out some of the seeds to scatter over the top of the fruit, then place the vanilla pods in the baking dish too. Scatter over the sugar
Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until tender, then leave to cool in the dish
To serve, turn out the panna cottas onto dessert plates. Serve with the roasted rhubarb and its juices alongside, with an extra tablespoon of grappa poured over the top if desired

A legendary chef who launched The River Cafe in 1987 with Rose Gray, Ruth Rogers continues to set the bar for seasonal Italian cooking in the UK alongside her all-star team of head chefs Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Danny Bohan.

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